IPCC coverToday saw the official release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report in question is the summary for policymakers of the first instalment of IPCC Fifth Assessment report and comes from the IPCC Working Group I. Its focus is the physical science basis of climate change. Over the next year two more will follow from the imaginatively named IPCC Working Group II and IPCC Working Group III.  These will address the impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change and mitigation of climate change, respectively.  All three will be rounded up in a synthesis report next October.

These reports are central to informing governments around the world in the decisions they make about climate change. Which is why for the past week scientists and government representatives have been gathered in Sweden finalising the text for today’s launch – the aim is to ensure that the text is both scientifically accurate and clear and unambiguous.

The IPCC was formed in 1988 by United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation to assess the state of knowledge on climate change and communicate this clearly to the world. It produced its first (giant) report in 1990 and since then has produced assessments every 5-7 years or so. Each successive report has shown that the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change has been strengthening over time (and the latest report is no exception). They’ve also brought increasing clarity on what the impacts of climate change are likely to be.

There are, of course, still uncertainties. But climate change science is progressing in new and exciting ways to constrain these further. A wide range of methods from direct observation to lab and modelling experiments are being used by scientists to improve our understanding of how our climate system works. Next week, the Royal Society will be gathering together some of the leading scientists working on climate change in a discussion meeting on ‘Next steps in climate science’. The aim of this meeting is to discuss emerging areas of research and the future of research in this important field.

As we see the next couple of instalments of the IPCC assessment report come out, thought will also be given to the future of scientific advice in this area. The IPCC reports are mammoth tasks: the Working Group I report alone was contributed to by hundreds of scientists and drew from around 9000 scientific publications. The full report produced is ginormous. What will be key is ensuring that governments can access the highest quality, timely scientific advice to build their decisions on. Though I may be getting ahead of myself, it will be interesting to see what form the sixth assessment report takes.